The story of Stanhoe & Barwick Flower Show

Although the 2011 Flower Show is billed as the 26th in the current series, this is certainly not the 26th anniversary of the event in Stanhoe. There is a mention of the Annual Stanhoe Flower Show being held on 4 August 1909, and again in 1912. In fact, it is quite likely that the Flower Show dates back to the 19th century, though we have no confirmation of this.

The next period for which we have so far found records is the 1930s, when Mrs Eva Blackburn remembers a Flower Show being held in the Dairy Barn at Barwick House. (This is the one which is straight ahead when going up the drive to the house, where the roadway goes sharp left towards the house.)

Exactly when the Flower Shows at Barwick stopped is not known, but it is likely to have been in 1935 when Colonel Seymour died and his widow moved to the Cabin, which she renamed Little Barwick. Barwick House was taken over by her son, Major Stephen Ralli, and his wife, who understandably didn’t want to host the event so soon after moving in. Shortly afterwards came the war, so for a while there were no more Shows.

The resurrection in 1986

In 1985 the WI committee, with Mrs Gillian Beckett in the chair, discussed the possibility of making their August meeting for 1986 into a flower show. In January 1986 preparations got under way, with judges being chosen and contacted by Mrs Eva Blackburn and Mrs Olga Ransom who were keen early supporters.

We drew up a schedule which was approved at the March meeting. The event was to be open to all village inhabitants (including Barwick), and advertised in the village paper The Intelligencer edited by Mrs Ford. Mrs Beckett agreed to run the Show and in July all committee members were asked to help with the preparations and organisation on the day – which they did whole-heartedly.

The great event took place on Thursday 7 August in the Village Hall. While we were still wondering if anyone would come, the doors were opened to greet a band of enthusiasts – and not just the few we had anticipated. The men proved to be in a hurry as many were working in the harvest fields and had rushed away for a few minutes to deliver their entries.

Entry names had not been collected beforehand, and most classes had more entries than we had bargained for. This led to a number of problems, but we managed to deal with them, though not always without some panic.

Muddy wheelbarrows

One of the greatest difficulties came in the most popular class: this was for the best collection of vegetables, and promised a prize donated by one of the big seed firms. Seven trays arrived, mostly in wheelbarrows. As their owners were in a hurry it was not long before many pairs of muddy boots and muddy wheelbarrows – not to mention wives and families – were tramping around the Hall as their owners sought room for their exhibits. Can you imagine the chaos? Someone’s noble work with a dustpan and brush soon solved the obvious hazard.

The mixed trays also caused trouble for the judges. People who had put entries into other local shows produced clean and well-presented trays, but those who were strangers to the idea had merely pulled up their vegetables, soil and all, and tipped them in.

Another problem was the vases in which the flower entries had come: some small, some very large, some stable, others top-heavy, and a few very precious to their owners. In spite of all this, and arguments about sizes of cake tins and vase sizes, the judges did a great job. By the time the clock hand approached lunchtime the only thing left to do was to take the judges’ marking papers home, add up the marks and find the winners.

“Nearly a disaster”

That should have been one of the easiest parts of the day, but instead it was nearly a disaster. The problem arose because the overall winner of the cup was a lady! This was something we should have thought of, as a glance in the schedule showed clearly that almost all the items could be entered by the ladies. The men, on the other hand, would be more or less confined to the entries from the garden, since cookery, crafts and flower arrangements were not in their field.

I could just imagine the reactions of those who had entered what they thought was primarily a flower and vegetable show only to be beaten by stitchers and flower-arrangers. My mother agreed with me that something would have to be done, and that quickly! We decided that the main trophy (which she had given) should become the Men’s Cup, and I offered to buy another for the ladies. Time, however, was the problem as their presentation was advertised in the programme and the Rev Jowett was booked to come and present the trophies at the end of the Show, with less than three hours to go.

A rapid call to Mr Parker, the jeweller in Fakenham, explained what had happened. As he had no similar cups, he suggested we have a silver rose bowl. That seemed ideal, so I set off with all due speed and arrived to find him waiting, in spite of it being his lunch hour. It didn’t take long before it was in my bag, then another speedy drive and it was back to the Hall just as the door was being unlocked.

As the later report of the event stated: “The whole event was a great success, The Rev Jowett presented the men’s cup to Mr Ronnie Newell and the ladies’ rose-bowl to Mrs Olga Ransom”. It all sounded so calm and organised, but no-one knew of the problems.

We did learn a great deal during that first effort and everything was much easier from then on. Since then the Show was been added to every year as we learned from our mistakes. Within the next ten years properly printed entry cards, comments sheets and so on were provided, as were flower containers exactly like the ones used at Chelsea.

At the end of ten years I felt it was time someone else took over the running of the show, and happily Rosemary Brown agreed to do so. So, please keep supporting us and may the event see out the next century!

If you can help to fill in any gaps about the earlier history of the Flower Show, please or get in touch with Stanhoe Archive.